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Seth Kochera: Derby trail will heat up in next three weeks with high-point races on tap

In last weekend’s races, relatively unproven prospects jockeyed for position on the Derby trail.

In the Spiral Stakes (Grade 3) at Turfway Park it was Black Onyx (Rock Hard Ten) who pulled the upset. In the race itself, local hero Mac the Man (El Corredor) asserted himself at the front and was caught just entering the final bend by Taken by the Storm (Stormy Atlantic) and Black Onyx. Those two battled it out until the top of the lane, where Black Onyx pulled ahead of that rival.

Favorite Uncaptured (Lion Heart) made a run at the leader, but was unable to pose a challenge going down by 1 1/2 lengths. In the Sunland Derby (Grade 3), it was Bob Baffert trainee Govenor Charlie (Midnight Lute) in a relatively easy five length victory. He tracked the pace in third behind Saint Prado (Kitten’s Joy) and Abraham (Distorted Humor), and he took command in the last turn scooting away to victory and punching his ticket to Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

Things on the Derby trail are really heating up this week. The next three weeks are the highest points on the road to Louisville. This week features three races worth at least $1 million, highlighted by the Florida Derby (Grade 1). The Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park is one of the premier stepping stones to Churchill Downs. Big Brown (Boundary) [2008] and Barbaro (Dynaformer) [2006] both took the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby in the last 10 years. This year’s edition has a field of 10 that includes three big shooters.

First up is Champion Shanghai Bobby (Harlan’s Holiday). The Champ suffered his first career defeat in his 2013 bow in the Holy Bull Stakes (Grade 3), and he should be well rested since he has not run since then. Second is morning line favorite Itsmyluckyday (Lawyer Ron) who handed Shanghai Bobby his first loss last time out.

Last but not least is Fountain of Youth (Grade 2) Winner Orb (Malibu Moon). Next up is the Louisiana Derby (Grade 2). The last Louisiana Derby winner to take the roses was Grindstone (Unbridled) in 1996. A full field of 14 will do battle at the Fair Grounds. The probable favorite will be graded stakes winner Revolutionary (War Pass). Other notable runners will include Risen Star Stakes (Grade 2) runner-up Code West (Lemon Drop Kid) and Palace Malice (Curlin), who was third in the Risen Star.

The final Derby prep on the weekend is the UAE Derby (Grade 2) in Dubai, which traditionally does not produce very many Derby starters. There are only two runners that are nominated to the Triple Crown and should be watched closely: He’s Had Enough (Tapit) was second to Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade 1), and Coolmore’s Lines of Battle (War Front) trained by Aidan O’Brien is the other.

For my selections: In the Florida Derby, I’m going with Orb to duplicate his stellar Fountain of Youth victory, the Louisiana Derby will be won by Code West, and the UAE Derby will be won by Secret Number (Raven’s Pass)

This week’s top 10 list:

1. Verrazano
He had his first workout since his impressive stakes debut at Palm Meadows on Saturday.

2. Shanghai Bobby
The Champ is back in action on Saturday and ready to avenge his first career defeat.

3. Orb
He is looking to show his Fountain of Youth win was no fluke in a tough Florida Derby.

4. Flashback
The Tapit colt is working impressively at Santa Anita towards the April 6 Santa Anita Derby.

5. Will Take Charge
The Blue Grass on April 13 at Keeneland is next for the son of Unbridled’s Song.

6. Vyjack
Training at Aqueduct, his home track, for its feature race, the Wood Memorial on April 6.

7. Itsmyluckyday
The Calder based runner will be shipping across town for the Florida Derby on Saturday.

8. Super Ninety Nine
It would appear that the Santa Anita Derby is next for the Baffert trained son of Pulpit.

9. Hear The Ghost
Putting in some nice work at Hollywood Park prepping for the Santa Anita Derby.

10. Oxbow
D. Wayne Lukas is sending the Calumet runner to the Arkansas Derby on April 13 next.

Keep an eye on: Code West, Goldencents

Dropped from the list: None

Upcoming races

3/30/13 – Florida Derby (G1) (1 1/8 miles, Gulfstream Park) $1 million
3/30/13 – UAE Derby (G2) (1 3/16 miles, Meydan) $2 million
3/30/13 – Louisiana Derby (G2) (1 1/8 miles, Fair Grounds) $1 million

Last week’s races

3/23/13 – Spiral Stakes (G3) (1 1/8 miles, Turfway Park) Winner: Black Onyx
3/24/13 – Sunland Derby (G3) (1 1/8 miles, Sunland Park) Winner: Governor Charlie 

Seth Kochera is a graduate of Georgetown College, working in the horse industry. He studies bloodlines and racing performance and shares his knowledge with KyForward readers. He’ll be following the road to the Triple Crown. His email is skochera@gmail.com.

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